People Rise Up

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In 2010 and 2011, people across the Arab world rose up against oppression and deprivation. But after the celebration of hard-earned victories, many countries will continue to face systemic challenges due to food insecurity, demographic trends, and water scarcity. Securing the future will depend on changes in the coming years to national policy that include responses to resource limits as a central component.

Access to food and other basic commodities is a highly sensitive topic in many countries. In low-income countries, a sharp rise in commodity prices or a disruption in supply can often lead to severe economic hardship and even malnutrition for significant portions of their populations as poorer households use a large part of their budgets for food and energy.

As a result, a resource crunch that threatens food security and access to other essential resources can translate into severe social and political instability. High food prices and fears about food security in 2008, for example, caused riots in 33 countries in Asia and Africa.

The popular uprisings seen across a large swathe of the Arab world in late 2010 and the spring of 2011 had many contributing factors. Mainly, these were protests against abuses of human and political rights by repressive governments. Many observers have, however, underlined the important role that rising food prices and other resource scarcities played in stoking popular anger.

Many of these uprisings toppled long-established autocrats. Whether this will give greater political freedom is still unsettled. What is clear, however, is that these populations will remain at risk from severe resource deficits both in their region and globally. Only by taking an aggressive stance toward aligning resource use with what the planet is able to renew can these threats to future well-being be mitigated.

Further information:

  • "Drought Helped Spark Syria’s Civil War — Is it One of Many Climate Wars to Come?"
  • Francesco Femia, Moyers & Company, September 6, 2013

  • "How Resource Shortages Sparked Egypt's Months-Long Crisis"
  • Nafeez Ahmed, The Atlantic, August 19, 2013

  • "Egypt's new age of unrest is a taste of things to come"
  • Nafeez Ahmed, The Guardian, July 4, 2013

  • "U.S. Drought Could Cause Global Unrest"
  • Brandon Keim, Wired, July 24, 2012

  • “Runaway population growth often fuels youth-driven uprisings”
  • Kenneth Weiss, Los Angeles Times, July 22, 2012

  • “The Other Arab Spring”
  • Thomas Friedman, New York Times, April 7, 2012

  • Global Footprint Network's Mediterranean initiative
  • "Failure to act on crop shortages fuelling political instability, experts warn soaring prices for staples is thought to have been one of the factors contributing to unrest in Egypt and Tunisia"
  • Fiona Harvey, The Guardian, February 7, 2011

  • "Droughts, Floods and Food"
  • Paul Krugman, New York Times, February 6, 2011

  • "Food, Farming and Freedom: Sowing the Arab Spring"
  • Rami Zurayk, Just World Books, 2011

  • "Sustainable Development and Environmental Challenges in the MENA Region: Accounting for the Environment in the 21st Century"
  • Susan Sakmar and Global Footprint Network, The Economic Research Forum (ERF), Cairo, June 2011